there were eighty of them.”
    Volos only shrugged.
    “What are you saying?” Berhanu demanded in Wedey. He was sitting on his pallet. “Who is that Kozari?”
    Volos scowled. “His name is Mato, and neither of us would be alive if it weren’t for him. Hate me if you must, but try to at least be civil to him.”
    A strange look crossed Berhanu’s face, one Volos couldn’t read. Then he looked away.
    When Volos turned back to Mato, the innkeeper had a thoughtful expression. “You speak Wedey well, don’t you?”
    “At least as well as Kozari.”
    “But what are you— Wedey or Kozari?”
    “Depends who you ask,” Volos answered with a sigh.
    “I’m asking you.”
    “I… I don’t know.” He looked at Mato sadly. “When I was a soldier, I wore a Wedey uniform. I’m sorry.”
    Mato settled a hand on Volos’s uninjured shoulder. “Thank you for being honest. You know what? When I was a boy, after my brother and papa died, I was so angry. I hated Wedeyta. But Mama told me it’s not the color of a person’s uniform that makes him a good man or a bad one. It’s what’s in here.” He patted Volos’s chest, right over his heart. Then he smiled and left the house.
    Volos was still standing there, clutching his things, when Berhanu made a small noise. “You’re fucking him,” Berhanu said.
    “No, I’m not. And it wouldn’t be any of your business if I was, Your Highness.” Let the prince be angry with him. He always was anyway.
    That night, Volos suggested to Berhanu that they go upstairs, where the bed would be more comfortable than a pallet on the floor. Berhanu agreed with a grunt. Volos had to bear most of Berhanu’s weight as they climbed— and good gods, that small gift of warmth and pressure felt so fucking good!
    Berhanu lay down on the mattress with a relieved little moan. “Where are you going?” he asked when Volos started for the door. He sounded slightly panicked.
    “I’m fetching my blankets from downstairs.”
    “Why? It’s warm enough and there are plenty here.”
    “Because I don’t much fancy sleeping on bare boards.” Volos stomped his foot for emphasis.
    “Oh, for— We can share the fucking bed. It’s big enough for two and I don’t bite.”
    The air was suddenly too thick for breathing. Volos wanted to share Berhanu’s bed more than he desired nearly anything else on earth. And he wanted to avoid it as fervently as if he had to face additional hordes of Juganin. He couldn’t think of a reasonable way to refuse. After several long moments of ridiculous dithering, he unlaced his boots, crossed the room, and got into bed. He was still fully dressed, and he hugged the edge of the mattress.
    Berhanu doused the lantern.
    Rain pelted the rooftop and pattered against the windows, but inside the attic room, the men’s breaths were very loud. Volos could feel Berhanu’s body heat pooling under the blankets, caressing him, making him hard and a little light-headed. He fisted his hands, squeezed his eyes closed, and prayed for sleep to overcome him.
    “What reward did my father offer you?” Berhanu asked in a hoarse whisper.
    “He didn’t specify.”
    “Something grand?”
    “I suppose.”
    “You suppose.” Berhanu was silent a moment. “Isn’t that why you came here? Why you risked your life?”
    Volos sighed. “Not really. I don’t… there’s nothing I really want.” Nothing he could ever have, anyway.
    “Then you did it for glory? No. That doesn’t make sense. You’re a hero already.”
    Volos’s stomach made a strange lurch and he didn’t reply.
    “Why did you do it, Volos?”
    It was the first time Berhanu had ever spoken Volos’s name. Although the room was too dark to see anything— and besides, Volos’s eyes were closed— he knew Berhanu had turned toward him. The prince waited for an answer.
    Volos intended to say something about duty and respect for the crown. Instead, what came out of his mouth was “I didn’t want you to die.”
    For a

Similar Books


Ella Ardent

Hell Happened

Terry Stenzelbarton, Jordan Stenzelbarton


Saul Tanpepper

Crooked House

Joe McKinney, Wayne Miller